How to Wash the Dishes

In last week’s post, we explored what I call a kitchen sink spirituality. Can we find a worthwhile practice in the mundane task of washing the dishes? What can it teach us? We looked at three references to a spirituality of dishwashing.

There is a fourth reference I’d like to explore today.

dishesOn his website, author Jim Forest tells a story about his friend, the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. One evening at a dinner party, Forest was annoyed at the pile of dishes he was stuck washing while everyone else was having a great conversation in the other room. Sensing his annoyance, Nhat Hanh told him, “You should wash the dishes to wash the dishes.” Forest was puzzled. Then his friend advised him to “wash each dish as if it were the baby Jesus.”

I’m really drawn to Nhat Hanh’s response. When I first read it, I was immediately transported to the Middle Ages, my favorite time period. Nhat Hanh may have meant to impart advice on mindfulness, but he sounds just like a medieval devotional master.

In the late Middle Ages, many devotional texts invited their readers to experience the humanity of Jesus in a new and startling way. Their goal was to foster an experience of intimacy with the savior. The Life of Christ by Ludolph of Saxony (14th c.), for example, asks lay Christians to imagine holding and caring for the baby Jesus:

Kiss the beautiful little feet of the infant Jesus who lies in the manger and beg his mother to let you hold him a while.

And later:

[T]he holy Virgin, following the law that had been established, left the city of Bethlehem with Joseph and the infant Jesus to go to Jerusalem, five miles distant, to present Our Lord in the temple. You go, too, in their company, and help them carry the child.

I never fail to be moved by the tenderness of this invitation. Ludolph asks his readers not just to meditate on Jesus, not just to think about him or rehearse the events in his life. He invites every person to enter into Jesus’ life. This reverses the way we usually approach Jesus. Instead of asking our Lord to help us, we help care for him. We kiss and hold and carry his infant self. For a moment, we are his mother.

I’m fascinated by the way a contemporary Buddhist monk channels this text. I doubt that Nhat Hanh meant to get medieval on us, but he did–-and together with Ludolph of Saxony, his advice helps to transform a small part of our daily life. Hold the infant Jesus a while. Wash each dish as if it were the baby Jesus.

Doing the dishes can make me so angry. I’m tired at the end of the day. I see the piles of dirty plates, not all of which will fit into the dishwasher, and I simply don’t want to wash them. But how could I be angry washing the baby Jesus? How could I refuse an invitation to take him into my arms?

I need this kind of spirituality, one in which tenderness and imagination melt away my frustration. One in which Jesus becomes startlingly present in my life. What, after all, could be more startling than suddenly seeing Jesus in your kitchen sink? It’s the jolt needed to restart and soothe my troubled heart.

If henceforth my family sees me weeping at the sink after dinner, it will be because I hold not only dishes, but also the infant savior.

Dishwashing as a spiritual discipline? Surely so. One that I practice each day. One that brings me to Jesus. One that washes me of anger even as I wash the dishes clean.

 

WEEKLY PRAYER: St. Teresa of Avila

This week’s prayer is more of a meditation or a loving admonition. It comes from St. Teresa of Ávila (1515 – 1582), Carmelite nun and mystic, whose Feast Day is today (October 15).

 

Teresa of Avila

*****

Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing upset you.
Everything changes.
God alone is unchanging.
With patience all things are possible.
Whoever has God lacks nothing.
God alone is enough.

(Source)

 

FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Thank you for joining us for Friday Favorites! Each week, Prasanta Verma and I round up our favorite links related to prayer, spirituality, and writing. We hope it will enrich your life and help you to find the best the web has to offer.

Read, enjoy, and be blessed.

***

We Are Free to Learn Slow by Tasha Jun (a beautifully liberating message — we are free to move at the pace God has given us)

How to Stop Work From Taking Over Your Life by Sheridan Voysey (discover “sacred inefficiency” and why your weekend is about more than recharging for the week ahead)

A Prayer for Those Who Feel Awkward in Social Situations via Douglas Kaine McKelvey (Who me? I don’t need this prayer. *Runs and hides*)

A Rough and Ready Primer on Traditional Publishing via Andi Cumbo-Floyd (helpful info for writers wanting to go the traditional publishing route)

Novelist Cormac McCarthy’s tips on how to write a great science paper via Nature (his advice is transferable to other subjects– and, well, it’s Cormac McCarthy)

“Emergency Poet” opens literary “pharmacy” to support mental wellbeing via Keele University (literary “first aid” as a way of bringing the therapeutic benefits of poetry to the local community. “Yes” to more poetry!)

 

WEEKLY PRAYER

A prayer before writing or studying from St. Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274):

*****

Ineffable Creator,
Who, from the treasures of Your wisdom,
have established three hierarchies of angels,
have arrayed them in marvelous order
above the fiery heavens
and have marshaled the regions
of the universe with such artful skill,

You are proclaimed
the true font of light and wisdom,
and the primal origin
raised high above all things.

Pour forth a ray of Your brightness
into the darkened places of my mind;
disperse from my soul
the twofold darkness
into which I was born:
sin and ignorance.

(Source)

 

WEEKLY PRAYER: FRANCIS OF ASSISI

Our prayer this week is The Canticle of the Sun by St. Francis of Assisi (1181 – 1226). Francis’s Feast Day is October 4.

Francis’s hymn celebrates all of God’s creation. In Franciscan theology, contemplation and worship frequently begin with the goodness of the material world before delving inward, on the path of the spirit.

 

Giovanni_Bellini_-_Saint_Francis_in_the_Desert_-_Google_Art_Project

 

Most high, all powerful, sweet Lord,
yours is the praise, the glory, and the honor
and every blessing.

Be praised, my Lord,
for all your creatures,
and first for brother sun,
who makes the day bright and luminous.

And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor,
he is the image of you, Most High.

Be praised, my Lord,
for sister moon and the stars,
in the sky you have made them brilliant and precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, for brother wind,
and for the air both cloudy and serene and every kind of weather,
through which you give nourishment to your creatures.

Be praised, my Lord, for sister water,
who is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.

Be praised, my Lord, for brother fire,
through whom you illuminate the night.
And he is beautiful, and joyous, and robust, and strong.

Be praised, my Lord, for our sister, mother earth,
who nourishes us and watches over us,
and brings forth various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Be praised, my Lord, for those who forgive through Your love,
and bear sickness and tribulation;
blessed are those who endure in peace,
for they will be crowned by you, Most High.

Be praised, my Lord, for our sister, bodily death,
from whom no living thing can escape.

Blessed are those whom she finds doing your holy will,
for the second death cannot harm them.

Praise and bless my Lord,
and give thanks to Him and serve Him with great humility.

(Source)

WEEKLY PRAYER

Today’s prayer is adapted from a passage in Walter Hilton’s spiritual treatise, The Scale of Perfection. Hilton (ca. 1340 – 1396) was an English Augustinian canon and mystic. Hilton is not a saint, but the Episcopal Church (USA) honors him this week, on September 28.

*****

Lord, thou art in me and shalt never be lost out of me,
but I am not near thee till I have found thee.
Nowhere need I run to seek thee,
but within me where already thou art.
Thou art the treasure hidden within me:
draw me therefore to thee that I may find thee
and serve and possess thee forever.

(Source)

FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Thank you for joining us for Friday Favorites! Each week, Prasanta Verma and I round up our favorite links related to prayer, spirituality, and writing. We hope it will enrich your life and help you to find the best the web has to offer.

Read, enjoy, and be blessed.

***

Lisa’s picks–

Breaking My Podcast Addiction via Julia Roller (social media addiction? who…me?)

Why We Must Seek God’s Presence in the Ordinary via Catherine McNeil (an invitation to see God in the ordinary moments of our days)

8 Prayers from John Chrysostom that get right to God’s heart via Kathleen N. Hattrup (little reminders that we are always in the presence of the Father)

 

Prasanta’s picks–

Recognizing Eternal Moments in Narrative Nonfiction via Kent Meyers (a craft essay on tracking down eternal moments in our writing)

The 2019 Madeleine L’Engle Conference — Walking on Water (coming up on Saturday, November 16)

Poetry from Kristin George Bagdanov (inspiring poetry from a finalist in the Omnidawn Chapbook Contest)

 

 

 

 

We All Wander – But Do We Return?

Perhaps it’s no wonder that I’m drawn to the medieval mystics. Having spent the better part of my life researching and studying, the mystics teach something I need to hear: we come to know and love God not through our intellect, but through our heart.

One of the most popular mystical texts was written by my favorite author — Anonymous. In the late 14th century, this man (probably an English monk) penned a guide to contemplative prayer called the Cloud of Unknowing.

These days, the Cloud of Unknowing is one of the main texts used in the practice of centering prayer. It has many techniques and words of wisdom. I’m especially drawn to the section in which the author talks about failing at prayer. Because we all do. Our monk says:

No sooner has a man turned toward God in love when through human frailty he finds himself distracted by the remembrance of some created thing or some daily care. But no matter. No harm is done; for such a person quickly returns to deep recollection.

I like this monk’s down-to-earth approach. When our mind wanders, we return to God. We don’t worry about it; we don’t dwell on it. We simply return. I find such grace in this message!

One of the most beautiful stories in Scripture, and one of the most familiar, is about returning to God. It’s the story of the Prodigal Son (reference). I love the way Rembrandt paints the moment of the wandering son’s return. The tender embrace between father and son captures, for me, the way God longs for each of his children to come home — no matter what we’ve done, no matter how far away we’ve gone.

Prodigan Son

We often think of the Prodigal Son as a parable about returning to God after a long time spent away. Might it also be about the way we return to God each day? I’ve come to see the Prodigal Son as a metaphor for my everyday prayer life. When I pray, I begin strong. I’m ready to take hold of the riches. Then, despite my best intentions, I begin to wander. Before I know it, my treacherous mind is far from the place it began — I end up, alongside the prodigal son, in a metaphorical pig sty of my own making. But God is always waiting, arms outspread, for me to return.

I hear the reassurance of God’s untiring welcome when I read the Cloud of Unknowing. I can return. We can all return to God.

It’s also nice to hear this assurance from people I know and trust. One day, after “failing” an exercise in contemplative prayer, I told a friend about my problem.

“I had to restart my prayer about thirty times,” I complained.

“Thirty times? That’s great! You actually thought about Jesus thirty times!” my friend exclaimed.

She sounded, in her own way, a lot like the Cloud of Unknowing. And I realized she was right. During my prayer exercise, I’d drifted away. There’s no question about it — I’m full of what our 14th-century monk calls “human frailty.” But when I wandered, I came back. And each time I did, Jesus was there. It’s reassuring to know that I may drift away, but he never will.

We all wander. But do we return? That is the real question.

Weekly Prayer: Hildegard of Bingen

Today is the Feast Day of Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), the “singing nun.” Hildegard was a German Benedictine abbess, writer, composer, and mystic who left us many beautiful words. Today, we’re praying one of her songs of praise.

You’re the Word of our Father,
the light of the first sunrise,
God’s omnipotent thought.
Before anything was made,
You saw it,
You designed it, and
You tucked Your all-seeing nature in the middle of Your sinew,
like a spinning wheel
with no beginning and no end,
still encircling everything.

Amen.

Source

FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Welcome back to Friday Favorites. Each week, Prasanta Verma and I share our favorite links on prayer, writing, and spirituality.

Do you have someone else’s article or post to share? Join the Contemplative Writers Facebook group, comment on today’s post on my Facebook page, or follow me on Twitter (@LisaKDeam) to nominate your favorite articles, blog posts, and books by Thursday at noon each week.

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Lisa’s picks —

Rewriting and Renaming the Silence via Cara Meredith (finding God–and oneself–in silence)

Pastoral prayer for the anniversay of 9/11 via Jill Duffield (a prayer to help us as we remember a difficult time)

Thought For the Day via Pádraig Ó Tuama  (a short and lovely audio about sleeplessness, prayer, and welcoming the dark)

***

Prasanta’s picks —

Curiosity, Creativity, Productivity: Three Pillars to Building Your Best Writing Life via Ann Kroeker (part one of a series)

The Business of Being a Spiritual Writer via Writing for Your Life and Patricia Raybon (a helpful video webinar on writers, agents, priorities, and more)

Arise, Stone via Christopher Warner (a poem in Image Journal)